A very common question I get is, “do I really need to take a protein supplement to add muscle?” My answer is, it depends, what type of training are you doing? I ask this question because the weekly training will determine the nutritional demands. Here is an analogy to better understand what I mean. If you fill your car’s gas tank up and drive it very easy (drive slow, brake easy, easy acceleration) for relatively short distances, you will not use as much fuel and you will not need as much maintenance on your car. If, however, you fill your cars tank and drive it hard, tow a trailer, load the trunk with heavy luggage and drive long distance, you are going to burn a lot of fuel. You will also need more frequent maintenance to keep your car running hard.
Now, think about the average fitness center workout. A little weight training, a little cardio, and finished. There is nothing wrong with this workout because the goals of those utilizing these lighter routines are not to have great increases in muscle size and strength. In fact, many times these average training routines are designed to create a caloric deficit and achieve weight loss or maintenance. However, if you are incorporating a lot of load volume (sets x reps x weight) into your routine, moving some heavy weight, and training hard 4 – 7 days per week, along with work and/or school, and family life, you are draining your tank and you not only need extra fuel, but extra maintenance material.
Protein is not the body’s first choice for fuel (only about 2 – 5% is used as fuel), but it is absolutely critical for maintenance and repair of the body tissues. The harder you train, the more maintenance and repair you need. Therefore, if you train hard and you want to add significant muscle and strength, I believe you need a protein supplement, and this belief is backed by research. In a more recent research article, it was reported in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Strength and Conditioning Journal (Aragon, Alan, Shoenfeld, BradOctober, “Magnitude and Composition of the Energy Surplus for Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: Implications for Body Building and Physique Athletes,” Strength and Conditioning Journal, October 2020, California State University) that an increase in macronutrient intake, in particular protein and carbohydrate, led to an increase in lean mass without an increase in fat mass when combined with strength training. Many other research studies have found the same results to be true. Some studies have also suggested that an increase in protein intake combined with strength training increased muscle protein synthesis and led to a decrease in body fat.
Muscle Damage and Repair
When we workout with weights (or any type of resistance) we are purposely placing an overload on the neuromuscular system. An overload is simply a stress applied to the neuromuscular system that is greater than stresses the neuromuscular system is accustomed to on a daily basis. A consistent overload over time will result in muscular adaptations, and these adaptations are specific to the overload placed on the neuromuscular system. If the overload involves a large load volume, the neuromuscular system will respond by developing greater muscular size and capacity (hypertrophy), along with increased connective tissue strength. If the overload is heavy weight, the neuromuscular system responds by increasing its ability to activate more motor units (motor nerve plus all the muscle fibers it controls), developing hypertrophy of Type II muscle fibers, and developing greater strength. The process by which the neuromuscular system adapts is what we will take a close look at and explain why a protein supplement is needed.
The above image shows the complexity of muscle and some critical structures that must be understood in order to see why protein supplementation is important. The breakdown of this image shows a muscle that has been cross sectioned, and a bundle of muscle fibers called a Fascicle is displayed. The Fascicle is then cross sectioned, and a single muscle fiber (also called a muscle cell) is shown. The muscle cell is cross sectioned, and we can see that, inside the muscle cell there are myofibrils which contain the contractile proteins, or filaments, called Actin and Myosin. The Actin and Myosin filaments are microscopic structures that generate muscle contractions, and the more actin and myosin that become active, the more force the muscle can produce.
In the image below, we see one actin filament called the Thin Filament and one myosin filament called the Thick Filament. The actin filament contains active sites for myosin and the myosin filament contains Crossbridges which attach to the active sites on the actin filament and pull the actin over the myosin to form a contraction. During an intense workout, the Actin and Myosin are under tremendous stress as they perform many concentric, eccentric, and static contractions under significant tension. This tension during contraction is called force production stress and is what causes microtrauma, or damage, within the muscle cells.
Microtrauma is simply microscopic damage to the muscle cell, such as damage to the cell membrane, the actin and myosin filaments, and the connective structures within the cell. The greater the overload placed on the muscle, the greater the microtrauma. This microtrauma results in Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) which usually occurs 12 – 48 hours post exercise, and I am sure all of us are familiar with DOMS.
DOMS is a natural response to microtrauma, or damaged proteins and takes place to heal the muscle and help the muscle adapt and become stronger. Essentially, when muscle cell proteins are damaged, a protease activation occurs so that damaged proteins can be broken down and removed. This happens so new protein can be added, for example, new and more actin and myosin filaments. In the process of this protease activity, edema occurs as fluid and white blood cells are rush to the area to initiate healing and, due to the increased fluid, an acute inflammation occurs which can irritate free nerve endings, slow some of the blood flow to the muscle, and create pain and stiffness. This acute inflammation is not a bad thing (like chronic inflammation), and it is entirely necessary for muscle adaptation. So, key points to take away from this brief explanation of microtrauma are, protein is damaged, the body immediately initiates an adaptation, or healing response, and new protein is required for the adaptation process.
If you train hard 4 or more days per week, you are asking your body to continually repair and improve, so you better provide the supplies for repair and improvement. A good, clean diet that supplies carbohydrates, fats, and protein, as well as sufficient micronutrients, can help the body recover, but if your goal is muscle size and strength, you will need extra building materials. You cannot build a larger structure without supplying more building materials. Also, just like building a large structure, the timing of the material supply can be very important. Protein and carbohydrate supplied shortly after a workout can be a very effective method of speeding up the recovery process. This is due to the fact that the muscle cell membrane is more permeable to nutrients after a workout than any other time. Often this is called the 30-minute anabolic window, but the actual time could be longer than 30 minutes.
Some of you are using anabolic fasting, so consuming protein after your workout may not fit your anabolic fasting time frame, so you should consume some of Max Effort Muscle’s Amino Recovery drink followed by a protein shake later in the day, after you have broken your fast.
The question now becomes, how much extra protein should I consume? The answer is it depends. It depends on how large you are, if you are trying to pack on a lot of muscle, how intense are your workouts and how active are you throughout the day, are you trying to cut body fat, and how old are you? As you can see, there are a lot of variables that play a role in the quantity of extra protein you may need. However, here are some general guidelines to follow when it comes to protein supplementation.
- The average adult can assimilate about 20 – 30 grams of protein at a single sitting. If you pack two or 3 scoops of protein into a shake (which could be approaching 50 – 75 grams) you will potentially gain some extra fat, and definitely flush money down the toilet. One scoop will do the job.
- If you need a little extra protein, the recommended protein intake is 1.2 – 1.7 grams/kg of body weight/day. If you need a lot of extra protein, the recommendation is 1.7 – 2.2 grams/kg/day.
- If you are older (45+ yrs.) try 1.2 – 1.7 grams/kg/day. As we age, we lose the ability to assimilate protein as efficiently as when we were young, so add a little more.
- There are a multitude of recommendations and the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 – 1.7 grams/kg/day, where other organizations suggest much higher protein intake (as high as 3.0 grams/kg/day). So, with all these recommendations, how do you choose what is right for you? See the next guideline.
- If you are not sufficiently recovering from your workouts, add a little extra protein with carbohydrates or healthy fats.
- If you are taking a bunch of protein and gain unwanted fat, back off the protein and fat intake. Don’t stop consuming these nutrients, just back off a little until you start to get lean again.
- If your strength is not improving, add a little extra protein (a shake or 2) and some healthy carbs or fats.
- If you are following a lower calorie program to get shredded, but you are not losing fat, cut the carbs back and add protein.
- If you are taking protein immediately after your workout, consume it with a high glycemic index carbohydrate (such as a banana).
- Drink a lot of water when consuming extra protein. It takes a lot more water to digest and break down protein than it does carbohydrates.
- If you are following anabolic fasting, consume a protein shake or, my personal favorite, a scoop of Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend Protein (Strawberry Ice Cream) with Oats and peanut butter, around dinner.
- Always find a protein that digests well, does not leave you bloated, tastes good, and mixes well.
This brings me to the protein I highly recommend. Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend Protein. Max Effort’s Tri-Blend Protein does not make you feel bloated, tastes amazing, and mixes well with everything. So why is it called Tri-Blend? I am glad you asked. Check out the ingredients below:
Whey Protein Isolate
- Whey Protein Isolate is very quickly absorbed and easily digested. It contains all the essential amino acids and is low in fat and carbs. Because Whey Isolate is quickly absorbed and digested, it will be quickly assimilated and used by the muscles for recovery and adaptation.
Whey Protein Concentrate
- Whey Protein Concentrate is a concentrated form of whey protein that digest easily and contains all the essential amino acids. This form of protein has been highly researched and in many studies was shown to aid in fat loss, protein synthesis, and strength increases.
Micellar Casein Protein
- Micellar Casein Protein is a high quality, slow digesting protein that is highly effective at producing protein synthesis, strength development, and an increased metabolic rate. Micellar Casein contains 5 types of Casein for better results. The slower breakdown enables the muscle to receive a longer supply of protein to aid in recovery and adaptation.
- Calcium is essential for muscle contraction and metabolism.
- Iron is essential for transporting oxygen to the muscle and supporting the oxidative pathways in the muscle. Iron also helps support immune system health.
- Potassium is essential for protein synthesis and support of the metabolic pathways in muscle.
Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend Protein uses a 1:1:1 ratio of Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Concentrate, and Micellar Casein Protein to create a blend that can be consumed anytime. You can use this protein post workout, for breakfast, as a muscle boosting snack, after dinner, and even with a carb spike (the Tri-Blend Protein, banana, and peanut butter combo is amazing). Because of the 1:1:1 ratio of fast absorbing proteins with a slower absorbing protein (Micellar Casein), this Tri-Blend Protein works great all the time. I have used Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend in shakes, oatmeal, with milk or water, and I often make protein pancakes with the Tri-Blend (they are amazing). Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend Protein comes in a variety of flavors and they are all delicious.
If you want to increase protein synthesis and develop greater muscle size and strength, I highly recommend using Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend Protein to add the extra material your body will need to meet your training goals.
If you want proof of the effectiveness of Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend Protein, check out the pictures of a couple of guys who use this outstanding protein.